Using a variety of cell separation techniques and cultivation conditions, circulating, adherent, connective tissue, clonogenic cells were found in just 3 donors out of 66, demonstrating that these precursors are extremely rare in postnatal human blood. Contrary to humans, guinea pig blood shows much more reproducible connective tissue colony formation; it was therefore chosen to study the differentiation potential of adherent blood-derived clonogenic cells. Out of 22 single colony-derived strains of various morphologies, only 5 spindle-shaped strains showed extensive proliferative capacity in vitro. None of these strains formed bone upon in vivo transplantation, whereas two strains formed cartilage in high-density pellet cultures in vitro. Both chondrogenic strains included cells expressing aggrecan, whereas nonchondrogenic strains did not. Out of four polyclonal strains studied, one formed both cartilage and abundant bone accompanied by hematopoiesis-supporting stroma. Evidently, there are cells in adult guinea pig blood capable of both extensive proliferation and differentiation toward cartilage: circulating chondrogenic precursors. Although some of these cells lack osteogenic potential and therefore represent committed chondrogenic precursors, others may be multipotential and consequently belong to the family of skeletal stem cells. This is the first demonstration of postnatal circulating chondrogenic precursors, as well as of precursor cells with chondrogenic but not osteogenic potential.
Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is found at the end of this article.